Andrzej Ciuk and Marcin Piechota, eds. Conrad's Europe.
This volume collects papers from the "Conrad's Europe" conference at Krakow in September 2004. The essays orb around a few related, highly topical themes: Joseph Conrad as a European or Eastern European, Conrad's work in the context of European literature, and general issues of nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Postcolonial topics are frequently addressed and the presence of Edward Said is often felt. Among the essays devoted to politics, history, and ideology, there is Sylvere Monod's impressive, wide-ranging survey, "Conrad and European Politics," and Allan H. Simmons's outstanding essay on Conrad and English politics and culture. Simmons admirably delineates the many nuances of Conrad's local, national, cosmopolitan, and class identities; this piece can be recommended as essential background reading for the study of Conrad's relations to these various imagined communities. Keith Carabine contributes an astute meditation on the well-known essay, "Autocracy and War," in light of Conrad's rarely discussed piece, "The Heroic Age," originally written for the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar and subsequently included at the end of The Mirror of the Sea. Carabine meticulously discloses the many nuances and revealing silences in the latter essay, concluding that "as a committed European who recoils before the 'watchwords' of his day that engender 'the animosities of peoples' and of nations, Conrad refuses to contribute on the anniversary of Britain's most famous naval victory to the 'din' of war-talk" (89-90).
Grazyna Branny offers a vivid if at times idiosyncratic account of the time Conrad spent in Krakow, and Fiona Tomkinson deftly traces Conrad's negotiation between concepts of British and French nationalism along with ideas of royalism and radicalism in two late novels set during the Napoleonic Wars, The Rover and Suspense, though her reflections on the spectral nature of nationalism is less compelling. Christopher Cairney attempts to find traces of the Byronic in Marlow, Nostromo, and Martin Decoud but does not succeed in making a convincing case. Josiane-Paccaud Huguet provides a reading of the idea of Europe in "Karain" and Lord Jim by drawing on Jacques Lacan and his notion of the Name of the Father. Anne Luyat does a competent job examining the correlation between the political "grotesques" in Conrad's work and the language they use or deform as they communicate.
Andzej Busza outlines the history of his personal study and teaching of Conrad and in doing so situates the work in a European literary context that extends from Gustave Flaubert to Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In an essay that could be fruitfully developed and further extended, Jakob Lothe discusses the role of narrative in identity construction among individual characters and Conrad himself. Tanya Gokulsing's article, "Polishness, Modernism, and the Manipulation of Time: Conrad's Use of 'Now' in Almayer's Folly," argues persuasively that Conrad's use of tense, especially the repeated use of the word now, is rooted more in European modernist experimentation with temporality and possibly even Henri Bergson's ideas of duree than a mere lack of facility in idiomatic English: "Conrad was far more self-conscious in his handling of even the very grammar of English than has previously been suggested," she affirms (154). Another especially compelling paper is Asako Nakai's "Europe as Autobiography? A Personal Record" which suggests that this text, like "Heart of Darkness," locates different cultural or national territories in a chronological order, as spatial difference is often represented as temporal difference. Even more intriguingly, Nakai reads A Personal Record as embodying an emergent autobiographical theory that prefigures late twentieth-century theories of self-writing; this is most evident in the text's positing of multiple beginnings.
Joanna Kurowska takes up the issue of racism in Conrad advanced by Chinua Achebe. The focus of her paper is one of Achebe's most compelling arguments, that Conrad's Africans typically lack the facility of speech. In her careful analysis of language and communication in "Heart of Darkness" and "An Outpost of Progress," Kurowska comes to a different conclusion, since the utterances of Kurtz and the other Europeans emerge as "one immense jabber, silly, atrocious, sordid, or simply mean, without any kind of sense," whereas the "the characteristically non-verbal message conveyed to [Marlow] by his dying helmsman" remains powerfully with him (165). Speech is not an absolute value for Conrad: genuine communication, including nonverbal communication, is more important than mere linguistic glibness, to say nothing of verbal deception, vacuity, or obfuscation. In analyzing the scene in which a "loud cry of infinite desolation is heard from behind a thicket," she points out the contrast between Europeans' shocked incomprehension and the Africans' judicious discussion and understanding: "Several exchanged short, grunting phrases, which seemed to settle the matter to their satisfaction" (168; "Heart" 103). Conrad here not only confers the facility of speech "on his black characters, but also excluded his Europeans from comprehension of that speech" (Kurowska 168). She ends her analysis by discussing Gobila's communication and civility in "An Outpost of Progress." The volume concludes with Jacek's Gutorow's engaging essay on Edward Said's reading of Conrad and Peter Mallios's deft account of Said's career-long attraction to Conrad.
In all, this is a significant volume of essays, many of them minor gems, that engage with several of the most compelling areas of current Conrad studies; it is a volume that will be very useful to both scholars and to other, more casual students of this rich cluster of subjects.
University of Maryland
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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